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The Hydro Nation Scholars Programme is part of the Scottish Government’s Hydro Nation strategy. The objective of the strategy is to develop the economic, environmental and social value of Scotland’s water resources. The Hydro Nation Scholars play an important role in supporting this by:

  • developing understanding of how and where best to develop the value of Scotland’s water resources
  • focusing on enhancing Scottish capacity in areas of existing research excellence
  • providing new research and insights where there are gaps related to water resources and the water environment in Scotland.

Projects with international elements will be expected to recognise and reflect in their design the key territories set out in the Scottish Government’s International Development Framework. Projects in other territories can be considered, but priority will be given to projects which can demonstrate a clear understanding of recent or current Hydro Nation international activity.




Resource recovery

Issue: To achieve our ambitions for the circular economy and the move to a low carbon economy, there is a pressing need for resource recovery from all wastewater streams. This includes those supporting the water industry (supply and treatment processes), manufacturing, chemical, food and drink, construction and other sectors.

Ask: We seek projects that clearly identify the potential for resource recovery (energy, heat, compounds of value, and other components) and consider appropriate markets or destinations for recovered resources. In particular, we seek projects that consider how best to develop a hierarchy of interventions for individual wastewater streams, maximising the potential for resource recovery aligned to their particular characteristics and value.



Pollution detection

Issue: Innovative approaches are needed to detect and assess the magnitude of pollutant burdens in different waters (standing and running waters, potable supplies, waste streams etc). There is a need to focus on emerging pollutants of concern, such as microplastics, pharmaceuticals, PFAS, and organics etc.

Ask: We seek projects proposing ways of detecting in situ pollutant loading and the presence and quantification of emerging contaminants and their bioavailability. Projects should propose the use of novel methodologies, techniques, and approaches, embracing, where relevant, satellite and digital opportunities and real time assessment.



Transforming how we use water

Issue: Climate-induced hydrological changes necessitate new ways of thinking about how to manage, apportion, and conserve water even in temperate and wet climates. This could come about through a transformation in the management of rural and local supplies to enhance their resilience to hydrological extreme events, or through activities that reduce demand and increase efficiencies in vulnerable sectors [e.g., agriculture, rural residential, construction, food production], as well as promoting household reductions in water use.

Ask: We seek projects that explore system transformation against a background of the need to reduce consumption whilst ensuring appropriate water allocation across society and the economy. We encourage projects that explore both technological and social innovation to achieve sustainable outcomes. Projects may wish to consider adopting comparative approaches that explore good practices in international contexts.


Hydrogen economy

Issue: Scotland can become a leading nation in the production of reliable, competitive, sustainable hydrogen. The draft Hydrogen Action Plan articulates the actions that will be taken over the next five years to support the development of a hydrogen economy to further efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from Scotland’s energy system while ensuring a just transition

Ask: We seek projects exploring the role of water in the hydrogen economy. In particular, technological approaches to the use of water and wastewater streams (all sectors) for hydrogen generation, as well as broader consideration of the environmental and societal impacts of wider production on rural and urban businesses and communities are of interest.



Emerging Pressures on Scotland’s Waters


Issue: Global shocks and disruptions, driven by climate change and geopolitical events have placed new demands on land. In the short term, these demands range from woodland expansion for carbon sequestration to the transformation of agriculture for food and fibre production. What will these changes mean for Scotland’s waters?

Ask: We invite proposals which investigate how land use and landcover changes in response to external shocks and pressures (economic, environmental, and political), and in turn how these changes impact Scotland’s water resources and/or water environment. Projects could explore impacts to groundwater and surface waters (quality and quantity). We are especially interested in projects that devise systems approaches and/or predictive models.



Wildcard: Bottom-up Innovation


Issue: Development of new technologies within the water sector proceeds at pace to both mitigate the carbon emissions from water processes, as well as make our water services more resilient to climate change. Yet there is a growing appreciation of the need for new thinking about how we tackle these twin challenges and bring about both technological and social transformations to ensure a water secure future.

Ask: We invite proposals which identify, propose, and/or explore examples of ‘bottom-up’ initiatives, solutions, or innovations to reduce the impact of water processes and/or make these processes more resilient in the face of shocks. These could include new partnerships or collaborations to improve management of water resources, small-scale low-cost or disruptive technologies, or social innovations that enhance the resilience of households and communities. The primary criterion for this category is the focus on problem-driven, multi-stakeholder, solutions that are attuned to the social contexts in which water challenges unfold. We particularly welcome engagements with cross-territory learning and knowledge exchange.



The Hydro Nation Scholars Programme is an open competition for project topics and then for PhD Scholars to undertake approved projects, hosted within Scottish Universities and Research Institutes. The areas of interest are set out below.

Full funding is available from the Scottish Government (to host institutions via the Scottish Funding Council) for up to 7 PhD scholarships. The funding available will be in line with the UK Research and Innovation  (UKRI) doctoral stipend levels and indicative fees. Currently these are:

•  National Minimum Doctoral Stipend for 2022/23 is £16,062

•  Research Councils UK Indicative Fee Level for 2022/23 is £4,596

•  Overseas fee levels for 2022/23 are defined by host Universities.

Scholars will be allocated Travel and Subsistence and all fees and stipend will be covered. Exceptional costs, for example, additional research costs, travel costs and placement costs during the scholarship will be negotiated with the HNSEG.

Scholars will be funded for 4 years. The scholarship may involve periods of research at a water related institution, such as Scottish Water, the Scottish Government, SEPA, or industry. The HNSEG will liaise between the applicant and the water organisation to develop this link, following appointment of the Scholar. Please do not contact a placement partner before application.

Scholars will benefit from specialised programmes provided under the auspices of the Hydro Nation Graduate School.



Call for Project Proposals

•     The call for project proposals, based on advertised topics is made in July of the current year.

•     There is a strict limit of one application per academic as a primary supervisor and one as a second supervisor.

•     Projects  proposals   must   be   submitted   to   the   HNSP   Secretariat   Linda Wood (  on the project proposal form below.

•     The deadline for the submission of project proposals for the 2022 call is the 5th September 2022.

•     Prospective PhD Scholars are encouraged to submit project proposals (Scholar-led proposals), which will be reviewed alongside academic-led proposals.

•     The proposal must show that the project is rational, feasible, innovative and relevant to the Hydro Nation strategy.

•     Project proposals will be reviewed and selected by a panel chaired by the HNSEG and includes policy stakeholders from Scottish Water, SEPA, WICS and SNH.  Proposers will be notified of the outcome early October 2022.

•     A summary timetable for recruitment is shown below:




Summary timetable for recruitment for 2022

Postgraduate Project Proposal Call 26th July 2022
Deadline for Project Proposal Submission 5th September 2022

Review of Project Proposals by Hydro Nation Stakeholder Panel

Late September / early October 2022
Advertisement of Approved Projects November 2022
Deadline for Scholar Applications 6th January 2023
PhD Scholar Interviews 25th and 26th January 2023
Final Decisions on PhD Scholars Late February 2023